Is anyone serious about judicial reform?
It has become fashionable to bemoan the state of our justice-delivery system and call for judicial reforms with almost clockwork regularity. The latest Conference of Chief Ministers of States & Chief Justices of High Courts held in the Capital on Sunday was no exception. Speaking at the conference, the Prime Minister bemoaned the huge backlog – more than three crore pending cases at various courts – and assured all those present of the government’s willingness to increase the quantum of funding to meet the needs of a creaking justice-delivery system.
Ironically, many of the steps needed to make the system more effective don’t call for a vast amount of funding. Take just four that would make an enormous difference and at the same time do not call for much funding.
First, video-recording all court proceedings (this is already done in many countries, with significant benefits). This would ensure a proper and complete record is maintained of the proceedings in court and ensure greater transparency.
Second, ensuring proper and timely compilation of the case-list so that time is not wasted in judges, lawyers and parties coming to court in anticipation of hearings that never happen simply because the case-list is so huge that a majority of the cases listed never get heard the first time they are listed. It would be better by far to list only 10 or 15 cases and hear the arguments.
Third, discouraging government departments from filing suits at the drop of a hat. Today, government is a litigant in almost 60% of the cases pending in Court; worse, in a large number of cases the dispute is between two government departments. The biggest casualty is the poor taxpayer!
Four, making better and more extensive use of IT (information technology). For the most part, courts remain the last bastion of paper-based files. It is not uncommon to see judges struggling to find references in bulky, dusty files and lawyers lugging huge suitcases of files in Court. And this in a country that prides itself on its prowess in harnessing IT!
None of these suggestions calls for vast amount of funds; nor are they particularly revolutionary. They have been made in the past as well; but for some reason, they have remained on paper. Could it be that for all its talk, neither the government nor the judiciary, including the lawyer community is serious about changing things for the better.